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Social security and women in Malawi : a legal discourse on solidarity of care

By Ngeyi Ruth Kanyongolo


Increasing levels of poverty and social exclusion in Africa, and Malawi in particular, have heightened interest in social security with varying proposals for refonn. Feminist scholarship highlights how women experience social security differently. However, debates on refonn have not fully engaged with how social security can reflect the needs of women in a context of plural and competing legal discourses, nonns and values. This thesis investigates the interplay between nonns and values and the lived realities of women in social security from a feminist and radical legal pluralist perspective. It uses predominantly qualitative data from a case study of women in Zomba, Malawi, based on grounded theory complemented by discourse analysis and appreciative inquiry. This study found that women's specific risks and the disproportionately adverse impact of general risks on women are in the majority of cases marginalised due to struggles for resources and power. Plural social responses at family, community, market and state levels reflect this marginalisation. Dominant legal discourses in these institutions devalue non - material disruptions of life mainly related to care practices. This weakens solidarity and results in social insecurity for the majority of women. The marginalisation is further reinforced by dominant conceptions of umunthu and human rights which obscure the disparities in solidarity and care. At the same time, there is practical resistance to the dominant discourse using idioms of jenda and substantive complementarity being generated within the same or modified regulatory institutions. These practices are creating a gap which IS precipitating the changes aspired by women. The changes include increased access to both material and non-material resources and sharing of care within and between the family, community, market and the state. This reflects solidarity of care. The thesis argues that, social security systems should be underpinned by a legal discourse of solidarity of care in order to improve women's social security

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